The Origins of the Modern Criminal Trial: Evidence from the Old Bailey, 1674-1913

Using evidence from computational analysis of the digitised Old Bailey Proceedings, this paper examines the major transformations in courtroom practices which took place in this influential court in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It examines the changing roles played by courtroom participants (focusing on victims, juries and witnesses, but also with attention to defendants, counsel and judges), the evolution of the physical design of the courtroom, and changing trial outcomes (verdicts, punishments) to argue that historians have overemphasised the role of judges and counsel and the development of the written law in their accounts of the history of the criminal trial. Changes in the courtroom roles of other trial participants, only detectable through analysis of actual trial proceedings and associated evidence, were at least as important in shaping the development of the modern criminal trial.
Professor Hitchcock and Professor Shoemaker are world leading legal historians in the common law world. Their work is particularly interesting and important not only for its content but also for the uses to which they have put this content. These include the Old Bailey Online and the Digital Panopticon: their projects have worked to digitise and provide direct access online to billions of primary source material. This enables historians easy access to those sources which enable the writing of a new ‘history from below’.

Their work is inherently cross-disciplinary, combining and enabling research in both law and history. It is also of importance in research training. This research has national and international appeal. It is important that the Institute for Advanced Legal Studies hosts this lecture for all of these reasons.

Speakers: Professor Tim Hitchcock (Emeritus Professor of Digital History, University of Sussex) and Professor Robert Shoemaker (Emeritus Professor of British History, University of Sheffield).

Chair: Professor Catharine MacMillan(Opens in new window), King’s College London, IALS Senior Associate Research Fellow.

The event will be followed by a drinks reception.

All welcome- this event is free to attend but booking is required.